LOS ANGELES (TheStreet) -- There are many reasons for a studio to re-release a film just before the Academy Award nominations are announced, but none has to do with the consumer.
If a film is lucky enough to be nominated for an Academy Award, it will earn an average of 18.4% of its box office revenue after getting the nomination -- if it happens to still be playing in the theater, according to research conducted over the past four years by IBISWorld.
Warner Brothers' film
The Dark Night
pulled off this feat during its rerelease in January 2009, when it built off the take of its initial release in summer of 2008, broke $1 billion in revenue and pushed actor Heath Ledger to a Best Supporting Actor nomination and win at the Oscars that year.
Jesse Eisenberg's take on Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network couldn't draw many people into theaters after its Oscar nominations -- not when a DVD and Blu-ray release was just days away.
That doesn't mean this plan always goes according to script. This year's exception was the Weinstein Co.'s Best Picture-nominated
The King's Speech
, which saw a 76% increase in ticket sales on
-owned movie listing and ticket site Fandango since the nominations were announced in January. Since then, the film has been rated a "must go" by more fans on the site than any other film.
"The Academy Award nominations clearly gave the film a little Oscar bump," Fandango editor Chuck Walton says. "By end of day the Tuesday of nominations, this little movie moved up to the top slot as Fandango's top daily ticket-seller, a nice feat considering that the film opened almost nine weeks ago."
That December release is making all the difference, as
's main competitor --
studio Columbia Pictures' Facebook fable
The Social Network
-- ended its initial run around the same time. After arriving Oct. 1 and leaving theaters New Year's Day, Sony pushed
back onto 603 screens the weekend of Jan. 7 amid a surge of award nominations and Oscar hype. The demand, however, didn't match the potential hardware.
"Its been good, but not as good as they expected," says Agata Kaczanowska, IBISWorld's entertainment analyst. "It brought in some revenue, but not as much as they'd hoped, and by the second weekend it was already down to 322 theaters."
The problem was that while a re-release was a sound strategy from a public relations standpoint, the movie's release on DVD and Blu-ray only four days later dealt a blow to its box-office potential. While
The Dark Knight's
action sequences persuaded fans to spend more money to see it on the big screen, it's much less appealing to spend the average of $7.50 a person the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO, but not that one) says it would cost American moviegoers to watch Jesse Eisenberg mope.
Though the number of theaters showing
The Social Network
increased to 385 after its Best Picture nomination was announced, that number has dropped steadily since. The re-release brought in another $1.2 million, or little more than 1% of the
The Social Network
's total U.S. revenue, but left it about an Oscar win short of the $100 million domestic box office goal Kaczanowska says Sony was shooting for.
For reasons Sony's been made well aware of, the Oscar re-release strategy is as ineffective as a movie plot that features Mark Zuckerberg as a wisecracking surfer cop. During the infancy of the Internet and DVDs -- circa 1997 -- NATO says the window from a movie's theatrical debut to its video release was roughly six months. That window closed to four months and 18 days in 2005 and dwindled to four months and little more than a week last year, NATO's Patrick Corcoran says.
"The contracts with companies that are distributing DVDs and Blu-ray discs are more stringent," Kaczanowska says. "But the window's also closing more quickly for video on demand."
With that little time to work with, standard Hollywood practice has been to release blockbusters during the summer and hope fans buy it for the winter holidays or, if a film's award-worthy, release it in December and ride it to the red carpets. Even those strategies are losing their staying power, though, as Time Warner Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes announced plans earlier this month to introduce "premium video-on-demand" films 60 days after they've been released in theaters and charge consumers $30 to $60 for the privilege. If consumers aren't shelling out to see Oscar contenders when they're re-released, the chance of moviegoers awarding them four to five times more of their precious dollars pre-DVD seem as slim as
Mega Python vs. Gatoroid's
Best Picture hopes this year.
"They're trying to make that window shorter because it means they spend less on marketing and the buzz on that movie is still big when they're releasing it in a different format," Kaczanowska says. "They believe that people may not want to see it in theaters but want to talk about it and tell friends about it and increase the studios' revenue share. But that will definitely impact on the number of people who are willing to go to the theater if they have an option to see it at home."
Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.